This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.
Trans-: Latin trans, across; through; transversal.
Xeno-: Greek xénos, a strange guest; other; a different kind of difference; divergence; see Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis, an Afro-futurist science fiction trilogy about the interbreeding of humans and aliens.
Estrogen: Greek oistros, literally a gadfly — a biting insect; and hence, by extension, a provoking person; figuratively, a provocation of passion and sexual desire, as in the condition of estrus, the cyclical female animal's attraction of rutting males for coitus; with suffix -gen, meaning “producer of.”
Genesis: Greek gignesthai, produced; a mode of formation: symbiogenesis; root.
—New Oxford American Dictionary
Xenoestrogenic, even without the prefix trans-, is already an overgrown, weedy keyword sinking heterogeneous taproots into the histories, politics, and embodiments of life on planet Earth. Hence my recourse to etymology. It is an adjectival form of xenoestrogen: that is, an estrogen anthropocentrically and racially marked as “foreign” or “alien,” which includes those estrogens belonging to plants (phytoestrogens) and fungi (mycoestrogens) as well as various kinds of synthetic estrogens (e.g., Bisphenol A). The xenoestrogenic tangles with the more familiar rootstock of steroidal estrogens — estrone, estradiol, and estriol — that have come to define the female sex hormone. It therefore twines itself with the lives of transwomen who situate themselves within the milieu of hormonal transition or “hormone replacement therapy” (HRT).
Prefixing trans- to xeno- produces fruitful tension. Trans- further concatenates the oversimplified alienations and -phobias connected to xeno- by enacting “movements-across-into-strangeness” that foster new conjugations, allowing xeno- to suggest alternate worldings rather than marking a discontinuous zone of incommensurable and inaccessible difference (King 2012). Trans-ing xeno- unsettles the oversimplified Others necessary for the production of stratification and disallowance, without in the process destroying difference and the ethics of encounter. Transxenoestrogenesis, a word with prefixes like nerve endings, recapitulates the syntax of sensate life folding over itself, invaginating itself, to encounter its own materiality.
Premarin, the brand name of a popular and widely prescribed xenoestrogen first introduced to the market in 1941, is a portmanteau word derived from PREgnant MARes' urINe, because the hormone is manufactured from “conjugated equine estrogens” (CEE) isolated from the urine of female horses that are gestating fetuses. Used in the treatment of postmenopausal and post-hysterectomy symptoms, regulation of the female reproductive cycle, osteoporosis, ovarian failure, prostate cancer, and certain intersex conditions, Premarin also has been used transxenoestrogenically by transwomen following the now antiquated yet nevertheless still employed Standards of Care for hormonal transition issued by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and its predecessor organization, the Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association. The manufacture of Premarin remains controversial, because it relies on the forced use, suffering, and dying of horses. Cramped in small stalls, kept indoors for six months of the year, mares are forcibly impregnated so that their urine can be collected for the manufacture of Premarin. Animal rights groups have protested these conditions, influencing policy and compelling changes in industrial practice that have benefited the well-being of horses exploited for Premarin production while not yet winning their liberation.
Attending to the roots of conjugate, Donna Haraway notes that the “yoking together” of “molecules and species to each other in consequential ways” is fundamentally constitutive of Premarin (2012: 307). In Haraway's conceptualization, the singular — for instance, subject, species, or woman — is necessarily conjoined (conjugated) with the multiple through corporeal involvements that place demands on the social. Kinship, relationality, and affect are always already “naturecultural.” Conjugating with Haraway, transxenoestrogenesis can be considered a hothouse of filiations and accountabilities. The cultivation and exploitation of equines has been built into the biopolitics of transwomen. Thus, historically, human bodies hormonally sex-transitioning from male to female have always been trans-species (“tranimal”) bodies (Kelley 2014 [in this issue]). This is a more general state of affairs than commonly recognized, given that estrogens — produced by most vertebrates, some insects, and a number of plants — trans (an active verb, like queer) the boundaries of species, phyla, and kingdoms. For example, phytoestrogens in red clover (Trifolium prantense) affect testosterone levels in grazers, resulting in changes to herd fecundity. There is nothing particularly novel about Premarin's trans-conjugating sex transition for transwomen as a kind of becoming-with-horse.
Premarin refigures morphology and sensoria in transwomen: olfactory nerves, optical lens, and the body's haptic and acoustic registers are altered; fingers touch differently; transxenoestrogenated breasts begin to lactate, leaking estrogen-dense milk. Some transwomen feed their breast milk to their infants, further unleashing Premarin's effects along human lineages. We transwomen are not alone in experiencing transxenoestrogenic effects. Premarin and its many xenoestrogenic kin found in foods, medicines, fertilizers, cosmetics, sanitary products, and other elements of material culture leak into habitats, environments, and ecosystems. They pass through the bodies of human consumers and nonhuman foodstuff animals into urine, milk, vomit, feces, and blood, seeping into septic waters and leeching into fields, fertilizing vegetal and bacterial growth, entering into new biochemical conjugations that make their ways into the bodies of others that, in turn, consume them. Here, in the regenerative bowels of natureculture, Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis is well underway.
National Geographic deploys the rhetoric of moral sex-panic in a spate of recent articles with titles such as “Sex-Changing Chemicals Found in Potomac River” and “Animals' Sexual Changes Linked to Waste, Chemicals,” that connect xenoestrogenic pollution to the apocalyptic undermining of sexual differences (see Kier 2010). Rhetoric aside, polar bears, alligators, frogs, mollusks, fish, and birds are numbered among more than two hundred animal species around the world that are indeed already responding physically to hormone-altering xenoestrogenic pollutants in their environments (Ah-King 2013). A joint report issued by the Scientific Committee on Problems in the Environment (SCOPE) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) concludes that endocrine disruption eventually can be expected in all animals in which hormones initiate physical changes, including humans (see Hayward 2011).
Transestrogenic xenogenesis outpaces Darwinian natural and sexual selection and in so doing reinvigorates the promise of transgender politics. Sexual difference — already a “difference engine” driving change — is monkey-wrenched by toxicity and pollution to propagate different differences rather than difference as usual (Chen 2012; Helmreich and Greenforst 2012). Neither utopic nor dystopic, transxenoestrogenesis invites the realization that bodies are lively and practical responses to environments that change over time, even when those environmental changes involve exposure to carcinogens, neurotoxins, asthmagens, and mutagens, to possibilities of cancer, diabetes, immune system failure, and heart disease. But where danger lies, promise might also be found: in the double binds of biochemistry, some phytoestrogens and mycoestrogens promote heart health and cancer prevention in humans; such is the emergent nature of the conditions of life and death.
Is there a way for transgender studies to reevaluate ecological destruction — such as the sex-changing response — in order for us to greet the future organisms that we are all already (and have always been) becoming? Transxenoestrogenesis, a purposely unmetabolizable term proposed as a key concept for a twenty-first-century transgender studies, can be characterized as a toxic, expressive, resilient, and ethico-politically problematic form of species symbiosis that undoes sex and embodiment as we know it. It names both a threshold of emergence and a mode of upheaval. As much an environmental concern as a transgender one, transxenoestrogenesis is not a forecast of disaster but rather a reminder that we are already living in ruination. Transgender is noninnocent; xeno- still gives rise to -phobias; estrogens are unavoidable; genesis remains biblical, and Eden is dirty — Adam and Eve are increasingly undone as industrialism continues to release its effluvient progeny into our garden states. Things can get worse, and probably will; but life for earthlings is already precarious. Transxenoestrogenesis names but one form of our shared vulnerability to one another, our bodies open to the planet.